A winning combination of measured, balanced research and critical evaluation—the definitive account of an important figure...

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THE LAST EMPRESS

MADAME CHIANG KAI-SHEK AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN CHINA

An ambitious, timely biography of Soong May-ling (1897–2003), better known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

To tell this complex story, Pakula (An Uncommon Woman: Empress Frederick, Daughter of Queen Victoria, Wife of the Crown Prince of Prussia, 1995, etc.) steps back and patiently recounts the twilight of the Manchu Dynasty, when May-ling’s father, Charlie Soong, was educated by Methodist missionaries, studied in American universities and achieved business success in thriving Shanghai. Sending his children to study in America seemed a natural progression, part of the reform movement when most of China was still agrarian, peasant and illiterate. May-ling graduated from Wellesley College in 1917, fluent in English and American ways, which would later enable her to deftly navigate between East and West. Meanwhile, Charlie had made an important friend and ally in the doctor turned agitator Sun Yat-sen, who had resolved to drive out the Manchus, and further befriended Sun’s hot-headed deputy Chiang Kai-shek. Charlie’s political connections determined that his three daughters would find powerful husbands. Ai-ling married into a prominent banking family that would later finance the Nationalist government; Ching-ling married Sun; and May-ling married Chiang (even though he was already married). Pakula portrays May-ling from an evenhanded sampling of correspondence, memoir and public record, as she was widely traveled and interviewed over the years, drumming up American support and dollars for the Nationalist cause in the face of Mao’s Communist incursions. Irrepressible, charming, venal and loyal to the cause of her husband, May-ling seemed to be equally admired and vilified. Although the Americans ultimately concluded that they had “picked a bad horse” in Chiang, his wife proved a shrewd, fascinating character around whom Chinese history momentously convulsed.

A winning combination of measured, balanced research and critical evaluation—the definitive account of an important figure in 20th-century Chinese politics.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-4893-8

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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